Performing artists know that their community is underserved. They can feel it, taste it, hear it, see it, smell it!!! But, a thread that keeps coming up in our ERPA panel events is that in order for things to change, policy makers need numbers, facts, data, etc. in order to better serve the arts community. That makes sense. Now, there's this new Cultural Data Project on the horizon, an initiative operated by the Pew Charitable Trust with major NY State and City backing that might help with this. Learn more about the CDP in one of our recent eblasts: blah blah blah.
There have also been a few surveys going around...from arts service orgs like The Field, trying to get a sense of how the economy is actually effecting artists and arts organizations. That's cool! Interested??? View DanceUSA's Survey: A Snapshot of the Field
Well, we also did our own little survey...it was in preparation for the New Economy Smack Down, at Galapagos May 13th. We asked RSVP's to give some info about how the economy was effecting them...all in all, we heard from 35 people - not enough to pull any hefty statistics from, but a lot of great comments were provided. So, it's kind of long, but take a skim at my 'digest' of the survey results with text responses from participants below...
The New Economy Smack Down Survey: Economments
Sent to over 100 RSVP’s in preparation for the Smack Down event
These results are a digested analysis of general trends, based primarily upon pronounced areas of differentiation in the data. Due to the limited volume of respondees (35 total), percentages will be considered statistically irrelevant. i.e. In lieu of using numbers, terms such as ‘very few’, ‘some’, ‘most’, and ‘overall’ are used to summarize the general characteristics of the data. Let’s just get to the point, shall we…
HERE & NOW – Direct impacts of the economy on people’s lives
Overall, ‘the recession’ is having a mild/mixed impact.
Very few people feel safe from ‘the recession’.
Most people believe that things will get worse.
TOUGH CUTS – Where the wallet is tightening
People still seem to be going to see shows and to class and to be making work.
The biggest change is that people are just eating at home more!!!
Some are downgrading or cancelling health insurance/therapy/body work…
DIRECT HITS – Lost grants/gigs/jobs
Overall, many are experiencing direct cuts in funding (actual funds received are less than expected/agreed) but are taking what they can get.
There is a lot of uncertainly over what to anticipate for next year.
“We have had cut backs in the amount of money given to us from our primary foundation, therefore leading to an increase in cost for those artists who participate in our programs. We are also not recieving as many donations from outside vendors to support our educational endeavours.”
“I work for a re-granting organization, and I'm very worried that some of our grants won't be renewed this summer (NEA, private foundations, etc).”
“Though I have not ‘lost’ my day job, my wages have been cut 25%. And one gig has told me they will be curating fewer artists due to the recession.”
FUNDRAISING & BOOKING COMPARISON – Recent success compared to previous years
Many held off on doing fundraising events this year, but some have had increased success with individual contributions.
People still seem to be getting the usual amount of gigs in NYC and on the road, but often with compromise (lower fees)…
Some are experiencing increased success, especially through touring!!!
“Our company/show combines a meal/drink and theater for a low price. We have gotten a lot of press and consistently sell out. We may actually benefit from the recession because we are seen as a ‘value’.”
BIGGER PICTURE – In terms of creative activity and creative resources…
Most people are ‘doing more with less’, some are ‘doing less with less’.
Less than a handful of people are into, or familiar with ‘doing less with more’.
MOVING FORWARD – Do you think the arts economy has the right skills, resources, and knowledge to get through this recession?
Overall many are enthusiastic and optimistic that artists have the skills, knowledge, and resources to get through this recession, but most are uncertain.
Many indicate that the social structures/culture that artists work inside of need to change (and many are for better or worse).
“A lot depends on other actors outside the arts, particularly government, foundations and businesses. I see great hope in the fact that Obama and his administration hold some power, but the real power lies in changing the terms of the culture. This remains both a moral and a political challenge, and those wih something to protect will seek to protect their privelege and position.”
“I am from Europe and have been questioning the non-profit system here for a while. There is less and less youth with wealth who are interested in being patrons of the arts. They are not cultured they are consumers.”
“Most artists in the performing arts have been accustomed to doing work with little or no support, so I feel people will find a way to work. In some respects we are better equipped because we had less to lose...? In addition, we are accustomed to combining serious effort with trust and acceptance of uncertainty (doing our best + hoping for best). I could be wrong, but it seems the folks who've had security are having a tougher time dealing with the circumstance. I'm like, dude, I'm used to this.”
“Institutions rely so heavily on contributed income. I think that artists and arts administrators as individuals are resourceful enough to come up with new models & solutions but the institutions/structures are less flexible. The arts economy as a whole will need to change fundamentally in order to survive and become relevant not only in a new economy but in a changing culture.”
LAST CALL – In sum, how do you feel about your financial and/or creative life? Are you optimistic that the economy will get back on track and that you will have a solid footing financially in the future?
Under the Umbrella of Opportunity:
“Optimistic, but I do work in a very specific field, very unique, so it’s difficult for me to feel the recession as we don’t have big competition.”
“I am optimistic about my financial life and that artists will be able to sustain through this economic difficulty. The artistic community in NYC has several advantages: 1) we are used to doing more with less, 2) we are creative and flexible, 3) we are used to relying on our communities, including financially through bartering or in-kind, and 4) we come together in community and dialogue. This economic difficulty will hopefully get us all thinking about our relationship with how we spend all of our life resources. Maybe with the value of the dollar going down, the value of people will be on the rise.”
Since mid-2008, I happen to have landed more support than I've had for many years. However, I recognize that those funds were allotted before the financial crisis happened, and that I may face even harder times than I did before these recent boons. But I feel that I can make wise use of the resources I have now, and remain optimistic that our economy will revive. It may be a different kind of economy (or it may be the same greed-and-gluttony driven monster it was before), but either way, I feel I can keep trying to be an artist.”
I've slowed down on producing and directing shows but found that my focus for the arts has become even more INTENSE and purposeful over the last 6 months BECAUSE of the recession. I'm not making as MUCH money and risk my credit score lowering but I've grown SO much as an individual.
I think this is a time of opportunity rather than a crisis. We all should take it upon ourselves to involve our communities and each other to pull through it with grace and love, not contempt and anger.”
We are trying to find ways to use the ‘downturn’ into breaking more glass ceilings. We have experienced glass ceilings through-out our 24 year history. We have broken some glass ceilings down and are ready, willing and able to break some more. Shrinking into the woodwork is not an option.”
“Having lost my day job was a blessing, I now need to think in a wonderfully creative way to get rent paid and dances made.”
“I am optimistic but nervous as to how to get by in the next few years. I'm curious about innovative ways that artists can help each other rather than compete with each other for audiences/resources/funding, etc.”
“I feel inspired to make more work and do more than ever before. I think the arts will surely survive the recession. Also, I hope/believe that due to the recession people will break certain spending habits and form new relationships with their own innate sense of creativity.”
“I feel great about my creative life and hopeful about my financial life. Since I am involved in an innovative start-up, the economy might actually provide opportunities (vacancies) for us.”
“I believe it will take several years for the economy to re-define itself. This will require creative artists, specifically the less commercial artists, to find or create a financial balance between the art world and the business or education sectors in order to sustain their personal and artistic livelihoods. An increase in collaborative work may have to happen in order to ‘get’ work performed.”
“I am making so much less money now that my entire life is curtailed. Cannot afford rehearsal space so must wait until my space grant kicks in to start my new project. Must call creditors every month to negotiate my student loan, tax payments, etc. The good news is, I make so little now that an arts job doesn’t represent the huge financial setback that it used to, so I’m looking there for a job. Now that I am living on less anyway, it’s worth a try. I am an adherent of the ‘make less with more’ theory. It’s more important that I make fewer better projects and try to pay myself and my performers. We’ll see how that goes.”
Under the Umbrella of Challenges:
“My arts newsletter is supported by contributions. My concern is that many people who say they want it will use the recession as an excuse to not donate, even though they are pergectly capable of donating $20-50. For many people, the recession is an excuse to justify being cheap. Although, for others, it does mean losing a job or confidence”
“I've learned to sidestep across my 20 years in the field and have found myself to be pretty agile in hard times. Nevertheless, i recognize that it continues to be a day to day proposition and my awareness that i have always existed one injury, paycheck, job and depression or love disaster from the edge never leaves me.”
“Because of lack of funding or decreased funds, my company postponed our 2009 New York Season which was planned for May, and are looking towards a potentially horrifying future. And now, I need to start choreographing a new work which will be presented during a fall festival and yet we do not have the funds for our dancers rehearsal/performances fees. So I have to sacrifice and plan to feature fewer dancers for my new piece. In terms of our productions, we are trying to find ways to cut costs while still presenting as highly professional programs as possible.”
“I do not believe the problem is with the economy. It is a larger problem of funding for the arts in this country, intersected with issues relating to health care, education and the public welfare.”
“Not optimistic at all! I feel that I'm crazy to be spending so much time as an artist, nurturing so much financial uncertainty. But I've no real choice. If I waited for sound financial futures in the arts, I'd wait into the grave, never creating, never learning.”
“I'm financially strained, and although I try to stay optimistic that the economy is slowly getting back on track, jobs still seem to dwindling - this is certainly true in the non-profit arts sector.”
“As an artist, I have never had a solid financial footing in New York City. I believe I will have to leave NYC to equate art making with income. I may well have to leave the US altogether. My bigger concern is to make art making possible; to renegotiate the terms by which we are operating. That means affordable space, etc. That means, being able to make the choice to make work again.”
“We dont have a solid footing when the economy is in the pink of health, we bleed. When the economy is bleeding, we are headed towards a haemorrhage. When the economy recovers its health for us to survive and enjoy a single day in the paradise of arts called NY, in the pink of health - there needs to be a paradigm shift. Economy's recovery is not sufficient for us to rebound. Getting back on track implies, we were once on the track.”
“Unfortunately, artists seem to think that working for free, or without healthcare is typical to their lifestyle. I think this already underserved population is going to feel an impact through lack of support since even the non-profit organizations, whose sole purpose is to provide them with adequate care, is trying to survive on less and therefore compromising its offerings. I do hope there is a turn around sooner than later, especially in the healthcare vein, but I think it is going to take a lot longer than we are expecting for this increase in economic activity to trickle down to the already impoverished artistic communities.”
“Personally, the lack of financial support that I can raise for my organization places me in jeopardy of my position as well, since every job has to show a purpose and a revenue. However, I am confident that I will be okay since everyone is beginning to understand the severity is no individual at fault, and rather a larger, natural decline.”
“I'm optimistic, but very nervous that we are unprepared for a big, bad, coming storm.”
“I'm worried about new artists looking to get started...if I knew the things I know now, would I have taken this career on? Ultimately yes, and I will do whatever it takes. I'm in a good position to weather this storm, with enough opportunity and financial security from part-time work...but fear that many of my peers are not.”